– – – Tearline – – – Apr. 13, 2017

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Tearline noun | \’ter ï lin\
The portions of an intelligence report that provide the substance of a more highly classified or controlled report without identifying sensitive sources, methods, or other operational information.

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What was that?!

Last week, we wrote that the United States was missing a Syria strategy. Fifty-nine Tomahawk missiles later, the Trump administration still doesn’t have one. President Donald Trump’s cruise missile strikes were targeted to destroy parts of an air base that was the origin point for last week’s chemical weapons attack. Since then, however, the White House has given us no sense of how they’ll prevent a wider escalation of conflict in the region, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer can’t find consistent explanations for Trump’s Syria policy, revealing the likelihood that this missile strike was a case of shoot first, ask questions later. President Trump’s actions also raise serious questions about the legality of his actions, which he argued were in the “vital national security interest of the United States.” Even if those who supported the strikes were right about the need to send a message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russia, that message is severely muddled with no apparent strategy.

What we’re missing

Did you miss the outcomes of the much-anticipated first summit meeting between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping last week? Well, it wasn’t just that the strikes in Syria overshadowed the summit, when President Trump informed President Xi of the missile launch over “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen”—there wasn’t much to miss period. Despite President Trump’s promises to get tough on China, there were few signs of progress on trade, North Korea, or any of the other issues on the long list of U.S.-China relations. Instead, the summit produced mostly photo ops, which, according to a New York Times analysis, the Chinese media has used to present President Xi as the “Adult in the Room” during meetings. For a few additional thoughts on what to take away, see this piece from CAP’s Michael Fuchs.

What’s on deck in the world next week

Vice President Mike Pence takes off for a 10-day tour of the Asia-Pacific region, with stops in Japan, South Korea, Australia, Indonesia, and Hawaii. Pence often flies under the radar, but keep an eye on this trip, which will be the most extensive and high-level journey to Asia by a Trump administration official to date. As Pence likely sounds the usual notes about U.S. support for allies and the importance of Southeast Asia, the big question following him around will be: Does his boss agree?

Better ideas

The missile strikes in Syria last week are yet another reminder of the myriad challenges for the United States in the Middle East and the lack of a comprehensive and realistic Trump strategy to tackle them. CAP Senior Fellow Brian Katulis and CAP Senior Policy Analyst Muath Al Wari have some suggestions to address Iran’s destabilizing influence in the region within the context of a broader Middle East and counter-Islamic State strategy.

Quote of the week

“My God. Just grit your teeth. … Hold on, help is on the way.” That was former senior government official Elliott Abrams’ No matter what one thinks of the missile strikes on Syria, there are no easy answers as to what should happen next. There are several highly experienced people with some suggestions about how to think about Syria in light of recent—and past—events. Check out this take from former U.S. Department of State Chief of Staff David Wade and this piece from former Assistant Secretary of Defense Derek Chollet. “http://www.politico.com/story/2017/04/off-message-elliott-abrams-steve-bannon-237086”>advice to the lonely few colleagues already in jobs in the Trump administration, desperately in need of more officials to be appointed and nominated to help run foreign policy. The Trump administration is filling top jobs at a historically slow rate, making it difficult to effectively deal with crises or run foreign policy. As much as we’d like to see President Trump’s disastrous policies stalled or reversed, the national security agencies desperately need qualified officials to keep the country safe.

Read of the Week

No matter what one thinks of the missile strikes on Syria, there are no easy answers as to what should happen next. There are several highly experienced people with some suggestions about how to think about Syria in light of recent—and past—events. Check out this take from former U.S. Department of State Chief of Staff David Wade and this piece from former Assistant Secretary of Defense Derek Chollet.

Weekly Trump-Russia reminder

Tillerson traveled to Moscow this week in an attempt to convince Russia to talk Syria. Tillerson reunited with Russian President Vladimir Putin—who awarded him the Russian Order of Friendship award in 2013—while leaving his press pool behind. Tillerson had to be pushed by reporters to even briefly mention the issue of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Meanwhile, we’ve recently learned that the FBI monitored the communications of Carter Page, an former campaign adviser to President Trump, due to “probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power.”

83 days still violating the Constitution

President Trump has been violating the Constitutionís prohibition against corruption by foreign governments for 83 days, because his companies are receiving payments from foreign governments.

Please send feedback, comments, and ideas to mhfuchs.af@americanprogressaction.org and stefaniemerchant.af@americanprogressaction.org.